Padres still enjoy their time in Yuma

Padres still enjoy their time in Yuma

YUMA, Ariz. -- Yuma is about three hours from San Diego, and about three hours from Phoenix. So, it makes sense that when the Padres made their annual trip to their old Spring Training home on Saturday and faced the Diamondbacks at Desert Sun Stadium, old-school Padres hats, Khalil Greene jerseys, and a smattering of the D-backs new red-themed uniforms would be on display.

Make no mistake about it -- though the Diamondbacks are technically the hometown team, this is a Padres crowd. If the louder cheers when the Padres players are announced aren't convincing enough, just ask the mayor.

"We're halfway between, but we still feel the Padres are our team," said Yuma mayor Larry Nelson, serving his fifth year in office.

Nelson is also a member of the Caballeros de Yuma, a group that has been hosting special events in this Arizona border town since 1962. The Caballeros have helped the Padres feel at home since 1969, the first year they spent March in Yuma. Desert Sun Stadium would remain the Padres' Spring Training home until 1993.

"When the Padres were here, it was a huge event. It was really putting us on the map because we had a Major League Baseball team," said Nelson. "Every weekend you could guarantee it was a sellout."

Now the Friars come back every year for a Saturday matinee, and the Minor Leaguers play on Sunday, to showcase the stars of the future. It's only one weekend a year instead of four, but it's still a big deal to the locals.

Padres 2006 first-round pick Matt Antonelli sent the fans home happy, hitting a three-run home run in the sixth inning to give the Friars a 7-6 win. The Caballeros estimated they had roughly 1,000 tickets left over for a game which drew 5,847.

Antonelli was surprised to see so many fans decked out in Padres colors.

"It was really nice. I didn't expect there would be this many home fans out here," he said.

Greg Riddoch, who is starting his first season at the helm of the Padres Short-A Eugene Emeralds squad, was once the manager of the Padres from 1990-92. He first came to the organization in 1986, so he spent a lot of time at Desert Sun Stadium, and was glad to be back this weekend.

"I was hanging out here for a while," said Riddoch after the Padres win. "We really kind of liked the place. We were the only game in town, so to speak."

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It looked to be the only game in town again on Saturday, and when the Padres were deciding who would make the bus trip from Peoria to Yuma this week, Riddoch said he was one of the first in line to come back.

"I volunteered. I said, 'I'd love to go back,'" he said.

Riddoch was in Yuma for the final years, and said residents would invite him into their homes all the time. He also remembered when his morning run would take him by the campers and RVs out in the parking lot of Desert Sun Stadium, baseball fans who were in town for the sole purpose of getting a sneak peak of that season's Padres squad.

"They'd say, 'Come in and have some breakfast,'" he recalled. "So, I'd go in, eat a couple pieces of bacon and finish my run."

Now it's manager Bud Black's turn to enjoy the Yumans and the Caballeros' hospitality. He was a huge fan of the tri-tip steak served to the players and coaches before the game, and said he expects the Padres will be back again next year.

"I see it happening yearly," he said after the game. "The Padres organization still feels very strongly about Yuma."

And the Yumans seem to feel likewise about the Padres.

Amanda Branam is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.